Sternoclavicular Joint Separation

What is a sternoclavicular joint separation?

The sternoclavicular joint is located where the collarbone (clavicle) attaches to the breastbone (sternum). These bones are held together by a piece of connective tissue called a ligament. A sternoclavicular separation occurs when the ligament tears.

What is the cause?

A sternoclavicular joint separation most commonly occurs when there is a direct blow to the sternum or a fall onto the shoulder or outstretched hands that causes a force along the length of the collarbone. It may occur in a contact sport when a player's shoulder hits the ground and another player lands on top of the other shoulder.

What are the symptoms?

There is pain, swelling, and tenderness over the sternoclavicular joint. There may be movement between the breastbone and the collarbone. Your collarbone may be in front of or behind your breastbone.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and examine you. You may also have an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time until the pain goes away.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, or other pain medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Wear a sling.
  • Rest your shoulder and arm on the side of the separation until the pain goes away.

If the collarbone is forced behind the breastbone, there may be a risk of damage to the heart or the blood vessels in the chest. You may need surgery.

In some cases, the joint heals but may be unstable or shift when you move your arm or shoulder. If this instability causes pain, you may need surgery.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent a sternoclavicular joint separation?

A sternoclavicular joint separation is usually caused by an accident that cannot be prevented.

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